I have been fighting this metastatic cancer now for 2 years with the fateful MRI on Cinco de Mayo 2015. It is a blink of an eye and forever in the same breath. Many gifts, much pain, a roller coaster, an opportunity to have had more time with family and friends in truly meaningful ways.
What does that timeframe feel like for the spouse? How do they withstand the same roller coaster while typically getting less attention? I bet it is a grind at times. I have watched my Mom heal my Dad from his stroke (7yrs) and I have watched Creighton, and I admire them for their endurance. It is no small thing.
Now that said, I wouldn’t trade where we are for we are actually in such a happier place than we were when I was diagnosed. So perhaps cancer breaks some marriages and saves or makes others as you open up, face fears together, say what you really mean, learn true compassion, and step back to appreciate that being with any human for 20 years is an investment that takes humility and time and perspective. Patience, forgiveness, pause. Giving space. Listening rather than counseling at times. Hearing them rather than immediately inserting your viewpoint.
And really it isn’t about cancer and marriage. It is about any detours, roadblocks, sick parents , sick kids, unemployment, any form of mid life crisis. These are SUCH a natural part of life and yet society shames us for these flaws and makes us think we should be above all that. But as I’ve written many times, our only certainty is uncertainty and impermanence. And flaws! When I look back over the last 6 years I can say that much of the work we did on the marriage was working on ourselves, working on our own demons so that we could be more compassionate with ourselves and then each other. I took a lead from Bebe’s dining room at Burkes that said the way to be an ally was “to be their biggest fan” and when I choose to be that rather than my spouse’s biggest critic (which is just so easy when it is the person you depend on so heavily for so many aspects of life) things are a lot more pleasant. Let me be clear. I and we don’t have it all figured out and every marriage is unique, but since I stepped back to take in his perspective and to try to be more of a fan it just feels good. I’m like a golden retriever. I need to feel loved. And sometimes that is as simple as taking joy when he brings me the paper and a cup of tea….and the time to enjoy it.
My friend’s grandma told her that marriage was a choice. Everyday. You tend to it like a garden. And some days you don’t feel like choosing it! You just hope it is never the same day as the spouse! Another friend’s mom said “I have been married four times. To the same man” I love that one for its brutal honesty, and tthat she also clarified that we are talking about years not months with some of the tough stuff. Now when I was diagnosed I was so mad because I thought we will have done all this work and the next woman will be the one to benefit from all of it. Well…I’ve had to make peace with that for in the meantime we will savor the time we do have.
I also know that not all marriages should work for so many reasons. It is a challenging institution. But fix the baggage of each relationship or it will just come along with you in repeated patterns. Clearly there are times that the best choice is to leave so I’m not trying to preach
Cancer is a marathon, and I’m realizing how much that asks of a spouse. Endless appointments. Asking them to go through the same exercises of acceptance and hope. Perhaps it is exciting for them to think about the chance of another life ahead. Perhaps it is deeply sad and terrifying all at the same time. I have loved that Creighton has asked me how he wants me to have him raise the kids even though I have 100% confidence that he is the best Dad around and will get it right on his own.
They say 80% of people die within 5years of diagnosis. I still hope for the best but know we are always in a race against the next mutation of this nasty disease. I have a scan today to check on my liver. We may change course on chemo depending on the outcome. Just trying to remain flexible and optimistic, but on average feeling more energetic. And will get back to rehearsing today for the first time in ages. So excited to sing again and be with the band.